- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Martinez resigns

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, pressed by the White House to run for the Senate from Florida, said yesterday he was resigning from the Cabinet.

Mr. Martinez, the Cuban-born former chief executive of Florida’s Orange County, has been near the bottom of polls that listed him among Senate contenders for the seat of retiring Democrat Bob Graham, the Associated Press reports.

However, Bush political strategists have urged him to run, concerned that other Republican candidates might lose or create a backlash that would hurt the president’s own re-election effort in 2004.

Mr. Martinez mentioned nothing about political plans in a brief statement.

“It has been a great privilege to serve the president’s Cabinet and lead the 9,300 hardworking employees of HUD,” Mr. Martinez said.

Mr. Martinez’s resignation is to take effect at noon Friday.

Fletcher’s pledge

Ernie Fletcher, sworn in yesterday as Kentucky’s first Republican governor in 32 years, promised to streamline government while boosting health care and education without raising taxes.

“Today makes a fresh start. As we begin, the water is still and undisturbed in front of us,” the former congressman said during a 14-minute inaugural address from the Capitol steps in Frankfort. “My goal as I enter office is a new unity with efficiency in government, affordable health care and better education.”

Mr. Fletcher said one of his first steps will be an executive order to reorganize the state bureaucracy, merging some of the 14 Cabinet positions of the executive branch.

Three senators

“A few weeks from now, when the country has run out of flu vaccine and people want to know why, we suggest they knock on the doors of Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee. Perhaps the three Republicans can explain when they intend to honor their promise to hold an open debate about the tort liabilities facing vaccine makers,” the Wall Street Journal says.

“The reason for today’s shortage — as well as seven previous preventive vaccine shortages since 2000 — is that there are just five vaccine makers. This lack of suppliers is partly thanks to Hillary Clinton, who as first lady turned government into the majority buyer of vaccines and pushed prices so low as to make business unsustainable. (This price control approach, we’d note, is what Democrats would now like to inflict on the Medicare drug program.)

“But just as worrying to manufacturers is an explosion of class action lawsuits. Vaccine makers are supposed to be protected from suits by 1986 legislation, but tort lawyers have found loopholes and filed more than 200 cases. The Republican leadership fixed this by including a liability provision in the Homeland Security legislation of a year ago. That is, until Ms. Snowe, Ms. Collins and Mr. Chafee objected to its ‘dark of the night’ insertion and forced Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist into repealing it,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

“In return for their victory, the senators promised an open debate on broad liability reform within six months. That would have been … June. But the Senate canceled a markup on a reform bill in April and the senators have gone quiet. Apparently, making sound vaccine policy isn’t as politically rewarding as preening before the media by standing up to ‘special interests’ (vaccine makers). So, what’s your solution for the flu-shot shortage, senators?”

Philosophical collapse’

Ed Crane, president of the libertarian Cato Institute, laments what he calls “the philosophical collapse” of the Republican Party.

“Things started to go downhill for the GOP philosophically speaking with the decision of the Reagan forces in 1984 to run a ‘Morning in America’ campaign, long on beautiful scenery and short on ideas. Whether because of the Gipper’s declining health or gutless advisers, the campaign missed an incredible opportunity to capitalize on an enormously popular president by laying out specific programs to shrink the federal government,” Mr. Crane writes in the latest issue of the Cato Policy Report.

“The late 1980s and the 1990s also saw the rise of supply-side economics, which further undercut the GOP’s philosophical approach to governance. Don’t worry about all the nasty arguments about the proper role of government, the supply-siders argued. Just cut marginal tax rates and the economy will be spurred on to grow faster than government, thereby shrinking government as a percentage of GDP.”

Mr. Crane added: “The philosophical collapse of the GOP came with the 2000 campaign of George W. Bush, who ran without calling for a single spending cut, much less the elimination of programs, agencies, or departments.”

Howard the Hypocrite’

“Presidential hopeful Howard Dean’s new strategy to take advantage of his front-runner status and help raise cash for fellow Democrats is giving Republicans an unexpected chance to dub him ‘Howard the Hypocrite,’” Paul Bedard writes in the Washington Whispers column of U.S. News & World Report.

“That’s because Dean, who has slammed President Bush for raking in $2,000 checks from big shots, signed a letter for his political action committee begging his presidential campaign donors for $5,000. ‘Please send as much as you can afford,’ pleads ‘Gov. Howard Dean, M.D.’

“The PAC’s Alex Pearson says the cash will be used to build a Democratic majority in Washington. Republicans say Dean’s $5,000 grab makes a farce of his charges that Bush is the pawn of special interests for accepting $2,000 contributions from ‘corporate cronies.’ Says a key Republican, ‘It’s just more double talk from Dean.’

“But Dean spokesman Jay Carson retorts that his boss’s money has a higher purpose — helping Democrats — while Bush donors get to feed on a ‘smorgasbord’ of government contracts and programs.”

The new Dean

“My moment of illumination about Howard Dean came one day in Iowa when I saw him lean into a crowd and begin a sentence with, ‘Us rural people …,’” New York Times columnist David Brooks writes.

“Dean grew up on Park Avenue and in East Hampton. If he’s a rural person, I’m the Queen of Sheba. Yet he said it with conviction. He said it uninhibited by any fear that someone might laugh at or contradict him,” Mr. Brooks said.

“It was then that I saw how Dean had liberated himself from his past, liberated himself from his record and liberated himself from the restraints that bind conventional politicians. He has freed himself to say anything, to be anybody.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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